You’ve seen his shots of the fashionable people walking on Bedford Avenue, but you may not have seen him. For a year, local photographer Johnny Cirillo has been sharing his Fashion Sundae series on Greenpointers, meticulously and lovingly spotlighting neighbors and passersby out and about in their ordinary habitat sporting extraordinary outfits. In his year of documentation, Johnny has noticed trends appear and vanish, the warming effect a single photograph can have, and — yes — the controversy that surrounds sharing photos of those not wearing masks during a pandemic. Here, Johnny discusses his craft, a passion project and labor of love that has recently evolved into opportunities for not only him, but also those he captures.
Greenpointers: Let’s dive right in: what was the origin of your Fashion Sundae photos, and why the fun spelling of Sunday?
Johnny Cirillo: The series started on June 25, 2016, the day Bill Cunningham, The New York Times street fashion photographer, passed away. Always loved and respected his New York City hustle and passion for street fashion and thought I would go to his neighborhood and do what he did for the day as a way to honor him. I fell in love with the process and haven’t stopped. Fashion Sundae is a series that comes out every Sunday on Greenpointers’ page that highlights my favorite looks from the week. A sundae is an amalgam of flavors and toppings, colors, swirls, layers and no two ever look alike, much the same as the neighbors creativity and uniqueness.
You’re coming up on the one-year mark: when exactly is the anniversary and what have you learned in the past year?
November 29 will be our 52nd episode of Fashion Sundae and our one-year anniversary! I’m really proud of that. Since working with Greenpointers I have doubled my shooting in the years past. 53,575 photos I took last year and I noticed within those photos how quickly a trend comes and goes. For five weeks last year bucket hats ruled the streets, it was an explosion. One day, on a Wednesday, they seemed to just disappear. The classics are the classics for a reason, tried and true year in and year out and it’s great to see. A trench coat, bell bottoms, argyle sweaters, the classics.
Recently, folks on Instagram were rather responsive to seeing some photographs of people not wearing masks. What was that like?
I was torn on the way to feel. In a way I want to promote safety by showing how diligent the community has been with wearing masks, on the other side I feel responsible as a photojournalist of sorts to show what is truly going on in the streets. Felt a little bit like a misrepresentation of the community to completely exclude people not wearing masks. Ultimately I decided it would be better to feature only those wearing masks and not draw attention to those who weren’t. I never want anyone to feel attacked on the page or ridiculed for a choice they’ve made.
Have you received any memorable or noteworthy responses from subjects who have seen themselves in your photographs?
I get lots of really kind and fun messages on the page but two of them stick out the most. One girl reached out saying she battles daily depression. She builds her world around little things throughout the day to bring a smile to her face and keep her afloat; she told me Watching New York was one of those things atop the list. The second really memorable moment was one day back last fall, streets were bustling. I looked over my shoulder and quickly snapped a girl before she was getting in a cab, two more seconds and I would have missed it. Somehow Wilhelmina Modeling agency saw the photo and contacted the girl and signed her. Blew my mind.
You recently received a book deal! Is this your first, and what details can you share?
The book deal is still in the works. I got signed to an agency that is representing me in hopes we can get it done. We created a 20-page deck for companies to get a feel for it and I think it’s got a really fun vibe. Lots of amazing unparalleled people in the community with impeccable style I would love to share with everyone.
What has it meant to be a part of and share such delightful photographs with the Greenpoint community?
I have lived in Greenpoint for 17 years; it’s one of the greatest places in the world. Such wonderful characters and families living here. Lots of times when you see someone wearing something unique or special it wasn’t just thrown over their shoulder in a rush, it was well planned. They are walking works of art and I love being able to share those artists with others in the community. I hope people can be inspired a little.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope this series serves as a fair representation of the times of fashion before, during and after the COVID pandemic. I’m hopeful for the day to come again when we can all be free of masks and hand sanitizers, to walk the streets of New York City freely and creatively. In the meantime I’ll continue to photograph you from a safe distance, capturing what I consider street fashion of our neighborhood.